WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney recorded two victories in last night's debate. In the pre-debate coin tosses he won the right to take the first question and make the last closing statement. But in between, he drowned in a sea of facts related to international affairs. Romney, who is not an expert on these issues, looked like Obama did in the first debate – pale, weak and trying to recall sentences he thought he had learned by heart.
Last night's debate was the exact opposite of the first one: This time around Obama was calm and eloquent. He was comfortable discussing issues he deals with on a daily basis at the Oval Office. Romney, for his part, tried to get through the debate without making any major mistakes.
The president wanted to drag Romney into a trap and present him as someone who is not qualified to serve as commander in chief and as someone who will get the US involved in a third war in the Middle East. But Romney did not fall into this trap and even agreed with the president on some issues. As long as he did not come off as a warmonger, he was pleased.
After all, Romney read the polls released before the third and final debate. A CBS poll published last night determined that 54% of Americans believe the Iranian crisis can be resolved diplomatically, while only 22% said a military solution was needed; 17% claimed Iran does not pose a threat; 59% believe the US should not be involved in Afghanistan, and only 31% support the US' current involvement in the country.
If in the Republican primaries Romney branded himself as ultra-conservative, after last night's debate one could mistake him for a Peace Now member. Being president means being consistent, Obama said of Romney's zigzagging over the past year.
But Romney was willing to pay this price. After his knockout victory in the first debate, Romney lost the second debate on points. The Republican candidate could afford the modest loss in last night's debate, as long as he can keep the momentum going and continue to be perceived as a worthy alternative.
No major mistakes. Monday's debate (Photo: Reuters)
According to a CNN poll, 48% of registered voters who watched Monday night's third presidential debate said that Obama won the showdown, with 40% saying Romney did the better job in a debate dedicated to foreign policy. The poll also showed that the majorities of both genders (63%) saw Obama as capable of handling the role of commander in chief, while 60% believe Romney can handle the role.
Polls published a few hours before the debate showed that the two candidates were tied, while others gave Obama a slight advantage. But in the swing states, which will ultimately determine who will win the elections, support for Obama has decreased. In Ohio, for instance, Obama's lead over Romney dropped from 10% to only 5%. In last night's debate, Romney made certain this trend would continue.
Obama wanted to dominate the debate, while Romney's goal was to agree with him and avoid making any serious mistakes. A few days will pass before we know how the debate influenced voters in the swing states.
It would be interesting to hear what Florida's Jews thought of Obama's description of his visit to Yad Vashem and how his visit to Sderot influenced his decision to approve the funding of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system; or what they thought when Romney said he would put Ahmadinejad on trial.
A CBS survey taken on the eve of the debate showed that 8% of potential voters could still change their minds about who to vote for. Obama won last night's debate, but it remains to be seen whether this victory helped the president reverse the momentum against him.